Today is “Star Trek Day“…marking 55 years since the first-ever episode of Star Trek was aired on NBC Television back on September 8, 1966.
In celebration of this special day (at least for us Trekkers), ViacomCBS announced a series of panels that will stream live today at 5:30 PM Pacific Time/8:30 PM Eastern Time from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. These panels and a number of related special events will be free to watch on StarTrek.com/Day. The panels will also be available to stream for free in the U.S. on Paramount+ and Paramount+’s Twitch page. After their initial airing, the panels will be available on-demand on Paramount+’s YouTube Channel and on Paramount+.
To go along with this announcement, the studio released this wonderful montage video…
Seriously, how cool was that? I mean, even if you aren’t a fan of the newer CBS Star Trek series, this whole event is pretty impressive. Indeed, that same Skirball Cultural Center will be running an exclusive Star Trek: Exploring Strange New Worlds exhibit for four months beginning in October. During that time, a new animated Star Trek series titled Star Trek: Prodigy will be debuting not only on the subscription-based Paramount+ streaming service but also on the children’s broadcast channel Nickelodeon. This will be the first Star Trek series in 48 years to be targeted specifically at kids (the next generation of Trekkers).
But that’s not all! Next year will see the debut of ANSON MOUNT as Captain Christopher Pike in the brand new series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds…a return to episodic Star Trek where storylines won’t stretch over entire seasons featuring ever-escalating risks, challenges, and dangers. Instead (we’re desperately hoping!), it’ll be good old-fashioned Star Trek the way we’ve loved it in the past.
And of course, we’ve got Q, Guinan, and the Borg Queen coming to Star Trek: Picard, and whatever the U.S.S. Discovery is gonna do now that her nacelles detach. (Okay, maybe not EVERYTHING is coming up roses.) Oh, and we’ve still got two-thirds of a season of Star Trek: Lower Decks coming out each week.
But hey, let’s stop for a moment and take a look back—way, way, waaaaaaaay back in time (with the help of a Guardian named “Carl”) to a year you all might barely remember because it was soooooooo long ago. That year, of course, was…
No, I’m not kidding. Remember 2016? Back then you could go on vacation, eat at restaurants, see movies in theaters, and buy groceries without risking your health. Tony Stark was still alive in the MCU and nobody had gotten “snapped” into dust yet (Avengers: Infinity War was still nearly two years away!). No one had ever uttered the words “Baby” and “Yoda” back-to-back. Fans couldn’t wait to see how good the last two seasons of Game of Thrones would be. Britain was still part of the European Union, the phrase “fake news” had yet to be invented, and candidate Donald Trump was going to release his tax returns real soon and would also make sure Mexico would pay for a thousand-mile-long wall along our border.
Man, 2016 seems like a million years ago, don’t it?
It was also the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. I mention this for two reasons. The first is because that was the first thing I thought of when I read about the Star Trek Day 55th anniversary celebration a couple of weeks ago: “Hey, where was all this hoopla five years ago when it REALLY mattered?” The celebration (if you could call it that) of Star Trek‘s golden anniversary was anemic…almost as though the studio completely forgot about it until the last minute (which they probably did). Magazines seemed to put in more effort than CBS…
And my second thought, which followed closely after my first thought, was all those whacked-out Star Trek fans on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube who scream the following nonsense (or something similar)…
BETTER THERE BE NO STAR TREK AT ALL THAN ALL THIS CRAP THAT CBS IS PEDDLING!!!
Are you kidding me???
The years leading up to 2016 were miserable for us Trekkies. I mean, sure, J.J. Abrams was nice enough to give us three Star Wars movies that took place on board the U.S.S. Enterprise with Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest. But Star Trek had been off the television airwaves (or cable waves or satellite waves) for more than a decade! Prior to that, we fans had been spoiled with at least one Star Trek television series (sometimes two) airing each year from 1987 through 2005. There were kids starting college in 2005 who had never known a world without new Star Trek episodes airing each week.
Then…nothing. For nearly a dozen frickin’ years! Is that REALLY what you want, you crazy nay-sayers? Is “NO Trek” really preferable to “BAD Trek?” And is Star Trek ever really “bad”? (Okay, “Spock’s Brain,” “The Infinite Vulcan,” “The Royale,” “Threshold,” “These Are the Voyages”—Star Trek doesn’t always hit home runs.)
But seriously (and I’m talking to the grumpy cynics out there), would you rather have NO Star Trek at all? Before you answer, consider this…
A good portion of the fans who complain about the new Trek series think they know how to fix the problem, and it’s simple: “Just give us Star Trek the way it used to be—the way we like it. Stop making so many changes to everything.”
But is it REALLY that simple…?
To answer that question, let’s look first at Deep Space Nine. For much of the first season, DS9 struggled to find its identity. Many of the scripts were simply TNG-like stories except that, instead of seeking out encounters with alien races or strange space entities, those characters and entities and anomalies came to the station. First season episodes like “The Storyteller,” “If Wishes Were Horses,” and (shudder) “Move Along Home” all could easily have been Next Gen episodes. There was even a Q episode and a Lwaxan Troi episode. None of them really worked because DS9 was not TNG. But as the show progressed forward and started exploring its own unique aspects, DS9 began moving in new directions that Star Trek hadn’t gone before: politics, religion and spirituality, family, long-term interstellar war, highly serialized stories, and expanded secondary casts.
Voyager started off TRYING to be different (a crew made up of two groups of former enemies, limited resources like torpedoes and fuel, a totally unknown region of space), but it quickly settled into the “same old thing” of also being very similar to TNG. The two crews quickly merged and buried the Hackett (ouch!), torpedoes and fuel and shuttles suddenly weren’t a source of scarcity, and adversaries like the Kazon and Vidiians kept popping up repeatedly (like Klingons and Romulans in the Alpha Quadrant), even though the Voyager was heading away from those areas of space. It took a few seasons for Star Trek: Voyager to develop its own identity separate from just being another TNG—delving into the Borg and what it means to be a sentient hologram and actually prioritizing the main mission to get home.
Enterprise likewise began with “the same only different”—and this time “different” meant calling phasers “phase pistols,” “polarizing the hull plating” rather than raising shields, treating patients with strange space animals, grappling hooks instead of tractor beams, and using shuttlepods instead of transporters. Oh, and let’s not forget oiling each other up…er, decontaminating after each away mission. But really, Enterprise quickly became just more of the same old TNG-type stories (only set 200 years earlier) and didn’t really get interesting until the third and mainly fourth season when the stories went in very new and unique directions for a Star Trek series.
In other words, just doing “the Star Trek that we already know and love” isn’t always the answer. It can become tedious, boring, and uninspired. And sometimes taking a risk (“Risk…risk is our business!”) with a new Star Trek TV series is what allows the show to evolve and improve and bring fans a richer diversity.
And it’s not just Star TREK. Let’s look at Star WARS…
If you still think there’s a magic formula of just giving fans more of what they loved before—only with new characters—remember when The Force Awakens came out. Many fans complained that it was just A New Hope redone—only with a female Luke Skywalker, R2-D2 now a rolling basketball, Han Solo back to being a wandering scoundrel (but much older), Dark Vader now an angry teenager witha different mask, the Galactic Empire rebranded as The First Order, and a new and improved Death Star now with an inverted name and the size of a planet instead of just a moon. Fans didn’t consider the sequel film particularly fresh or original…another strike for “Do it just the way you did it before.”
Imagine if fans had demanded “Better NO Star Wars than BAD Star Wars!” and Disney/Lucasfilm had listened.
In the end, what did work was a TV show that few people ever expected to be such a hit. It was a “small” story with no light sabers (until the end of season two), no Skywalkers (until the end of season two), no Millennium Falcon or Star Destroyers or Rebels or Empire, minimal TIE fighters and Stormtroopers, and a main character who wasn’t even a hero so much as a bounty hunter. Oh, and he travels around with a baby version of Yoda while he fights his way out of trouble.
Yes, I’m talking about The Mandalorian—a Star Wars television series reimagined as a cross between a sci-fi Western and the 1970s Japanese samurai epic Lone Wolf and Cub. Based on everything I just wrote, would ANY fan have predicted that we’d all be on the edge of our seats waiting for season three??? Of course not…because it was such a complete break from everything we liked before.
On the other hand, Solo, a movie that sounded like a surefire hit (“When Han Met Chewy”) and gave fans LOTS of what we knew and loved was, at best, meh. My point is simply that both fans and studio executives don’t always know what will resonate and what won’t. They and we might THINK we know, but really, we don’t.
And in many ways, that’s what happened with Star Trek: Discovery and the other CBS Trek series. The studio tried out some things, saw what was working and what wasn’t, and tried to course-correct. Discovery‘s first season was a mess—and even CBS realized that—making numerous adjustments that improved season two and lather-rinse-repeating for season three. Short Treks experimented further. Picard was, for many fans, a vast improvement over Discovery, although still far from Borg perfection. Lower Decks was a completely different experiment—not only embracing (rather than reinventing) 55 years of Star Trek canon but actually lampooning it. Some fans (like me) have enjoyed this, others not so much.
And hey, if you don’t like any of the above, that’s okay too, because CBS isn’t done experimenting yet! In addition to the eagerly awaited Star Trek: Strange New Worlds going back to Trek’s episodic, one-story-per-episode roots, there’s also Star Trek: Prodigy, which will have an opening title sequence that looks like this…
Will Prodigy work? Who knows? But at least the studio isn’t giving up. They are trying new things and, in so doing, building up an ever-expanding library of Star Trek offerings for fans of all ages, genders, and tastes.
So would it be better to have “no Trek” than having to live with “bad” Trek? I say thee nay!!! Because “no Trek” means just that…whereas all of these experiments allow for the studio and writers and producers to learn and grow and improve the franchise. TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise all had to crawl before they could go to warp. They each struggled through their early seasons, leaning from mistakes, trying new things, and evolving into the Star Trek we love.
And of course, Star Trek needs to keep up with Star Wars, right??? Disney is trying EVERYTHING! After The Mandalorian, they returned to CG animation with The Bad Batch, an amazing sequel to the long-running and equally excellent Clone Wars 3D cartoon. Then in the next two years, we’ll have the Japanese-produced Star Wars: Visions, then The Book of Boba Fett spin-off series, then Andor (a prequel to the movie Rogue One), the eagerly-awaited Obi-Wan Kenobi mini-series with EWAN MacGREGOR, and the live-action spin-off series Ahsoka with ROSARIO DAWSON. Beyond that, there will be Rangers of the New Republic, The Acolyte, and Lando. Plus we’ve got the next major Star Wars feature film, Rogue Squadron, now in production!
Can you imagine NO new Star Trek while all of this is happening across the street??? Star Trek would quickly die off and fade into limbo—loved and remembered only by fewer and fewer aging fans while Star Wars lives longer and prospers so much more. We can’t have that!
So all I am saying, on this 55th anniversary, is give Trek a chance. Because “no Trek” should NEVER be an option for fans!
Happy Star Trek Day.